Trend Watch

'Asylum' Trends as Policies Draw Attention

Lookups rise over 1600%

Asylum was among our top lookups on June 19th, 2018. The word saw greatly increased use in media, as the new policies of the Trump administration attracted considerable attention and condemnation, domestically and internationally.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned more than a decade of jurisprudence to rule that asylum claims based on gang violence or domestic abuse generally will not qualify.
– Jeremy Raff, The Atlantic (, 19 Jun. 2018

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday defended the Trump administration and suggested that would-be asylum seekers return when the U.S. is better prepared.
— Robert Schroeder, MarketWatch (, 19 Jun. 2018

The word may be traced back to the Greek asylos ("inviolable"), which is itself from from combining a- and sylon ("right of seizure"). In use since the early 16th century in English, the earliest meaning of the word was "a place of refuge and protection (such as a temple, altar, or statue of a god or in later times a Christian church) where criminals and debtors found shelter and from which they could not be forcibly taken without sacrilege."

Asylum has broadened its meaning over the past five centuries, and is now most often used in reference to those seeking relief from persecution, rather than from prosecution. Our legal definition of asylum is "protection from arrest and extradition given especially to political refugees by a nation or by an embassy or other agency that has diplomatic immunity."

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!